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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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TIFFANY COMMITTED TO THE HIGHEST QUALITY, REGARDLESS OF COST

TIFFANY COMMITTED TO THE HIGHEST QUALITY, REGARDLESS OF COST
Bronze & mosaic table lamp; "Dragonfly," leaded glass; Tiffany Studios; 1910; $138,000. Photo courtesy of Christie's
An elderly bearded gentleman sits in a wicker chair relaxing in his garden. His three-piece suit and deliberate expression suggest a life of action and accomplishment.

He is Louis Comfort Tiffany and the photo I’m looking at was taken after his retirement in 1919 at home in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Like most people, Tiffany’s life was anything but even. On the one hand, he was heralded for creating some of the most extraordinary American art glass imaginable.

On the other hand, he was regularly criticized for being overly commercial, and he lived long enough to see his glory fade. Tiffany’s designs fell prey to the ebb and flow of popular taste.

Five years after his death, Tiffany Studios closed its doors in 1938. Times changed, urban churches were demolished. Demolished with them were the stained glass masterpieces Tiffany Studios so carefully designed. In New York City alone, more than half disappeared.

Tiffany reportedly said his infamous lamps were inspired by his work with windows. By 1900, his furnaces were also producing objects of metal and glass like vases, scent bottles, and tiles that reflected his love of nature through plant and flower designs.

Only the finest bronze was used for his lamp bases, desk sets, and candlesticks. Every piece was hand finished. He was committed to maintaining the highest quality, regardless of cost. When Tiffany supervised the work, there were no shortcuts.

Time has shown a renewed kindness to his work since the late-1950s. Nowadays, Tiffany designs are treasured in museums and private collections around the world. He is called a visionary of art nouveau design.

Collecting Tiffany is again fashionable. But collecting Tiffany requires a discerning eye.

Not all pieces of Tiffany you’ll find are signed, numbered or retain their original identification. This was particularly true when a Tiffany employee purchased a piece, which was often unsigned. Also, the name and initials were cut or etched into the glass by different workmen and vary in size and style.

Before 1902, the blown glass usually had a paper label on the bottom. That’s one way to date pieces. After that, a Tiffany signature was scratched on the bottom. It could read “Tiffany” or “Louis C. Tiffany”, or it might have initials only. Metal bases were stamped.

As such, you can’t really accept or reject a piece of Tiffany based on markings or the lack of markings. Plus, Tiffany had imitators like Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company and The Handel Company. Look-alike pieces abound.

You really have to collect glass, not signatures. If you don’t know Tiffany, it’s best to work with someone who does.

Tiffany is highly collectible today and bound to continue its climb in value.

On Dec. 7, Christie’s, New York, featured its Tiffany, Innovation in American Design auction. Here are some current values.

Tiffany

Vase; “Tel El Amarna” Favrile glass; Tiffany Studios; circa 1919; 5½ inches high; $4,113.

Bronze jardinière; Tiffany Studios; circa 1910; 3½ inches high; 10 7/8 inches diameter; $5,288.

Student lamp; with two green damascene shades and adjustable base; Tiffany Studios; circa 1910; 26 inches high; $10,575.

Paperweight vase; Favrile glass; with morning glory decoration; Tiffany Studios for the Panama Pacific Exposition; circa 1915; 5½ inches high; $58,750.

Bronze and mosaic table lamp; “Dragonfly,” leaded glass; Tiffany Studios; circa 1910; 17½ inches high; shade is 15¾ inches diameter; $138,000.

Gilt-bronze floor lamp; with “Poppy” leaded glass shade; one of two known examples; largest shade produced by Tiffany; circa 1910; shade is 30½ inches diameter; lamp is 55¼ inches high; $1.601 million.

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